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Editorial | Jamaica needs a modern police service

Published:Monday | September 26, 2016 | 9:00 AM

Jamaica has suffered from high levels of corruption and violence for over 40 years, which has driven away human and financial capital, corroded the fabric of society and undermined hopes of development and prosperity.

In other countries, however, the level of violence has been falling for decades. The number of homicides in the USA in 2013 was lower than in the early 1960s; the number in Japan in 2013 was the lowest since the war; while in England, the level of violence has fallen by two-thirds since 1995.

These countries have implemented many reforms, including better street lighting, stronger security systems for buildings and vehicles, more CCTV cameras, and the replacement of cash by electronic transactions. They have the will and the capacity to fight corruption, and the police undertake regular reviews of their strategies, tactics and organisation to ensure that they remain focused on reducing the most damaging forms of crime.

So why cannot Jamaica do the same? Why has Jamaica failed to deal with its most ruinous and deadly problem?

The Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) is often criticised for failing to deal effectively with the corruption and violence that do such appalling damage to Jamaica, but they are not always to blame because the police force is just one part of the system of law and justice.

There are major problems in Parliament, which determines the legislative framework for justice and law enforcement. Recent allegations about the involvement of a former minister in murders, about bribes taken by politicians and the apparent disappearance of funds donated to a political party, suggest that our political system is still compromised by links to organised crime.

There are also serious problems in the judicial system, which judges the accused and sentences the guilty. It appears to be largely incapable of delivering speedy and efficient justice. Interminable delays and an unmanageable backlog of cases in the courts mean that many cases - even the most serious - can take years to complete.

However, some part of the fault does lie with the JCF. Some people think that the problem is that there are too many bad cops, but the JCF is becoming increasingly effective at weeding out those with criminal connections.

 

SIMPLE PROBLEM

 

The real problem is simpler, less dramatic, but no less damaging. The JCF is still using antiquated management systems and technologies that cannot support modern policing. This has greatly reduced its ability to deal with crime. Here are some of the findings from several recent reviews of the JCF.

• A large part of the JCF's vehicle fleet is off the road at any one time because of the lack of proper maintenance, which is why some stations don't have vehicles.

• Dispatchers cannot send the nearest vehicle to a crime scene because most of the fleet has still not been fitted with trackers. This is why the police sometimes take a long time to respond to calls for help.

• The JCF has not modernised its shift system. Most shootings downtown occur between 5.30 p.m. and 8.30 p.m., but fewer police are on duty at that time because most police still go home at the same time as everyone else.

• Many crimes are still recorded only in station diaries. This means that crime patterns cannot be discovered without laborious, manual searching.

• The JCF does not have a system for reassigning their assets on the basis of strategic priorities. As a result, there are no police posts in many of the high-crime communities.

All these failings - and many others - have the same underlying cause. The JCF is still using old systems and practices that are no longer fit for purpose, and its entrenched culture has resisted pressure to change. With a strong programme of reform and technological upgrades, the JCF could rapidly implement the necessary changes and could then give Jamaica the competent, efficient police service that it so badly needs.